When talking with HOLA UTC’s current president Briana Bautista and member Estefani Vera they told me the purpose of this organization is to unite the Hispanic and Latino communities on campus. HOLA raises awareness, shares, and celebrates the culture, but you do not have to be Hispanic or Latino to join the group. Briana says it is a safe space for everyone, to enjoy each other’s company and learn about the different backgrounds of its members. They encourage any student to join HOLA and learn more about the culture and be be more involved in the community.
Estefani says organization members consider themselves like a family, and that is the support system they want to have within the school. She says if you're a first-generation student, college can be a little bit different for you than other students. At HOLA members can understand what you're going through and provide that family-like support system to keep pushing you through college and also have a friend to lean on.
Briana says the program was on pause for a while but in 2020 they started back up again. The group meets weekly, sometimes biweekly, in a safe space to talk about their experiences, what’s going on in their lives, or what is happening in the community. They volunteer with local organizations such as La Paz or Tennessee United and hold collaboration events with UTC’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. They are also known to hold events for Hispanic Heritage Month, movie nights, dance exhibitions, and informative meetings on immigration.
Briana also tells me many members are first-generation students, trying to figure out how to register for classes and get their FASFA completed. For those who need help, HOLA hosts workshops and provides resources to students who want help with resumes, networking, and other paperwork. She says sometimes it can be a little intimidating to approach someone else for help because they do not understand your background, and that is one reason why they have these workshops, to bring the resources to the students. HOLA will also have members who have graduated come back as guest speakers and talk about their careers, job opportunities, or internships.
About two hours away in Knoxville, Students for Migrant Justice (SMJ) is educating the UTK campus about the immigration system, mobilizing on and off-campus, as well as building power with student immigrants. I spoke to co-founder Luis Mata back in May, when I first asked him about SMJ, he told me the founders, do not want to take credit for creating this organization. Luis says the work they are doing now, was happening before them, with them, and will continue after them. He says before they started this organization, UTK was not exhausting their resources like they could have been with the Latinx community.
We see it as a collective work that wouldn't be possible without the many supporters and without the people who did the work before us.
Another call to action Students for Migrant Justice is currently working on is ending the 287(G) policy in Knoxville. This policy is a contract between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it essentially deputizes officers in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to act as ICE agents in the community. The program has been in effect since 2017 and has since illegally detained more than 13 hundred people in the area, according to Luis. During the summer SMJ rallied with the community, spread the word, held rallies, and gained nearly one thousand signatures to tell local leaders 287(G) is not welcome, or wanted. Ultimately, the sheriff’s office did not just renew the policy but renewed it indefinitely. Recently, Knox News has reported the policy never got proper approval. Making the effort to end the policy in Knoxville, and around the country, more steadfast.
SMJ also partners with local organizations and advocacy groups such as Allies of Knox's Immigrant Neighbors who have been doing a lot of work in the Latinx community for many years. They have also partnered with Forward About Us, which is a national bipartisan political organization spanning the fields of policy, advocacy, and technology. In February, FWD.us partnered with SMJ on a nationwide campaign called “To Immigrants With Love” where you send messages of love to immigrant families on Valentine’s Day.
For more information on HOLA UTC or to find them on social media, you can click on the link here.
For more on Student's for Migrant Justice, click the link here or follow them on Twitter.
My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.